Book Review: Clues to the Universe by Christina Li – A Quiet Middle-Grade about Science, Grief, and Searching For Lost Fathers

Clues to the Universe byC
Blurb:

This #ownvoices debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.

I was provided an eARC of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion in any way.

I’ve always loved ‘quiet YA’ – young adult stories that aren’t about saving the world but are about the mundane yet meaningful low stakes that focus on the growth and emotional journeys of its characters. Well, if you love quiet YA just as much as I do, may I propose ‘quiet MG’? Though a lot of contemporary MG feels like quiet MG – stories about a young person’s growth as they overcome an everyday conflict that leads them to learn something about themselves – there’s something about Clues to the Universe, the debut middle-grade book by Christina Li, that feels like your quintessential quiet MG. And friends, I adored Clues to the Universe, and I’m excited to tell you why.

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Book Review: These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong – A Brutal Yet Tender Retelling of Romeo and Juliet Like You’ve Never Read Before

These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong.

Blurb:

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

CW’s Review:

I was given an ARC of this book by the author; this does not influence my opinions outlined in this book review.

How do you even begin to write a review for one of your most anticipated reads of 2020 that didn’t just exceed your expectations, but its story stabbed you in the heart, sucked the lifeforce and tears out of you, and made you ache and feel horror all at once – and by the end you wanted to thank Chloe for it?

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Book Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – A Historical Fantasy Inspired by Mexican Folklore, in which a Girl, a God of Death, and I (After Reading This) are Forever Changed

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. A badge at the bottom-left that says, 'Reviewed by CW, The Quiet Pond'. In the centre is a image of Xiaolong, the pink axolotl wearing a flower hat, waving at you.

Blurb:

The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

CW’s Review:

After I finished Gods of Jade and Shadow, I gently placed the book down on my pillow, closed it shut, tucked the book into its rightful place in my bookshelf, and promptly sobbed my eyes out. Because I wasn’t kidding in the title – as a reader, one of my greatest pleasures (and in extension, my greatest heartaches) is finding books that change me forever; books that challenge what I know what it means to love and feel deeply, break down what I thought I knew, and then elevate me by showing me a new and profound understanding.

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Book Review: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – A Dark, Twisting Gothic Horror of Decay, Decadence & Eerie Family Secrets

mexican gothic

Summary:

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

Skye’s review:

This is the first true horror book I have ever read.

Growing up, I never truly understood why people consumed horror media. Why would anyone voluntarily choose to feel scared instead of entertained? What point is there to feeding the paranoia of being alone in the dark? (It certainly didn’t help that the brand of East-Southeast Asian horror I was raised on tended heavily towards ghosts and apparitions, and still disproportionately frightens me to this day!)

But in recent years, I’ve found myself gravitating towards weird stories with spookier elements, and ended up developing a particular fondness for gothic horror. There’s something absolutely alluring about the morbid, almost pleasurable terror of a gothic novel, wrapped underneath layers of decadence, aesthetics, and decay. After massively enjoying House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig last year, I began seeking out books and other media that could give me the same sense of dread and catharsis that Sorrows gave me a taste of. I eventually found solace in Emily Carroll’s horror comics and the podcast The Magnus Archives, which all built a foundation for my instant attraction to the premise of Mexican Gothic.

And friend, if you are also fascinated by haunted houses and the macabre, in a tension that builds and builds until the threads of the story come loose in a brilliant, repulsive reveal… Then this book was written for you too.

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Our Friend is Here! Asian Heritage Month Edition – An Interview with June Hur, Author of The Silence of Bones; On Craft, Homely Reminders, & Korean History

Our Friend is Here: Asian Heritage Month edition. author interview with june hur. author of the silence of bones; on craft, homely reminders, and korean history. illustration of sprout the sparrow, their arms stretched wide like they are showing off something, and june as a blue turtle wearing glasses, winking.

Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.

Asian Heritage Month Edition is a month-long event at The Quiet Pond, where Asian authors and bookish content creators are invited to celebrate being Asian, Asian books, and the experiences of being an Asian reader. (Note: Here is an explanation of why we are calling this guest series ‘Asian Heritage Month’.)

When I first read The Silence of Bones last month, I was deeply enchanted by the world the story was set in—the way all the settings were lushly crafted and had a solid sense of place, and how June’s careful research shone through in every aspect of the story, from the instigators of the primary conflict to the little details in the police bureau, where the protagonist Seol worked as an indentured servant.

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